Quebec's personal taxes, already among the highest in the country, are about to go higher still. So it is little wonder that the province has given birth to its own version of the U.S. Tea Party movement. On Sunday, as many as 50,000 members of the "Cols rouges" -- the Red Collar movement -- marched from the Plains of Abraham to the Quebec National Assembly to protest recently announced hikes to the provincial sales tax, fuel tax, health tax, government electricity rates, and others.
We agree that taxes are too high, but -- especially in Quebec --- public services are also too lavish and benefits too rich. Until protestors also become advocates for smaller government and leaner entitlements, their fight against higher taxes will fail.
We are in no way arguing for higher taxes. Middle-and Upper-class Canadians already are forking over somewhere between 40% and 60% of their income -- depending on how high their income is -- to feed three levels of government. Income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, not to mention gas-guzzler taxes and property-transfer levies, inheritance taxes, capital gains and a host of other tolls, duties, tariffs and charges make Canadians among the most heavily taxed individuals in the developed world.
Still, the truth of the matter is that there is a major disconnect in many Canadians' minds when it comes to public services. Too many of us want our "free" benefits to continue, yet balk at tax increases. It's as if we believe governments can manufacture revenues from thin air, when the truth is they have no money they do not extract from current taxpayers -- or from future taxpayers in the form of accumulated public debts.
This dichotomy was evident among the protestors Sunday in Quebec City. Few, if any, were demanding an end to free health care, free university and college and Quebec's heavily subsidized $7-a-day day care. Instead, they chanted for the provincial government to clean up its own spending first before raising gasoline taxes by four cents a litre, or the provincial sales tax to 15%, or user fees for health care to as much as $450 per person per year.
This is a pipe dream. Governments simply aren't capable of becoming much more efficient than they already are; the score of failed efforts at streamlining government in the past 30 years are proof of that. Taxpayers struggling under onerous public obligations have only two choices, get used to higher levies every year, a la Quebec example, or learn to lower their demands for public services.